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Usability analysis: Freud Communications

During construction of a website, it is important to have in mind the target audience and the main purpose of the site. There are many components that must be considered in order to create, and sustain, a successful and beneficial website. These include searchability, usability, navigation, design, content and interactivity. Essentially, all components combined must successfully complete the tasks intended by the targeted user, Nielsen (date unspecified) states that utility is equally as important as usability. Freud Communications is a large public relations company in London and New York, and have many world famous clients such as Pepsi, Nike and Pizza Hut. It can be presumed that the main purpose of their website is to provide information about the company to potential clients. The effectiveness of the website can be determined by analysing it according to the outlined components.

It is important for a website to be found easily, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of ensuring a website is within the top results on a search engine using particular keywords and terms. McGovern (2006, p8) stresses the importance of optimising for “how people search”, by thinking about what the target audience is likely to enter into a search engine and maximising the use of key terms. Searching ‘Freud Communications’ in Google produces freud.com as the first result, ‘Freud public relations’ and ‘Freud London’ showed this website third, proving successful in SEO for users looking for the particular company. However, similar searches with more information regarding the type of company, but without including the word ‘Freud’, yielded in no successful results, at least on the first page. A search by Mondosoft found that only 5% of people visit the second page of search results (McGovern 2006); most only scan the top of the first. Assuming new, potential clients as the target audience for the website, the searchability shows a lack in optimising for users looking for public relations and marketing companies who may not necessarily know of the name ‘Freud Communications’. Most of the text within the site is displayed on the page as text within an image, rather than actual text, meaning that there is much less opportunity for keywords to be found by a search engine.

The usability of websites is often measured and evaluated according to learnability, efficiency, memorability, and the extent and recovery of errors made by users (Nielsen 1994, Badre 2002 and Brink et al. 2002). It is important that new visitors to the website can accomplish basic tasks without difficulty. Potential clients visiting freud.com typically want to learn what the company do, their beliefs and how to contact them. Where to find such information is set out simply in a list of links at the top of the page: ‘Our Services’, ‘Our Clients’, ‘Our Beliefs’, ‘Our People’, ‘Contact Us’. However, the text beyond these links is fairly complex and wordy, giving an informal and friendly vibe but making it difficult to quickly scan for relevant information. Each section is colour-coded, which may increase the ability of returning users to complete tasks and find their way around the site. It may not necessarily be clear which text or images are links without hovering the cursor over, for example, under ‘Our Services’ the sections of the shown diagram are also links (the same that are listed above). Essentially, though, all links work well and take the user to the anticipated section of the site.

Badre (2002) states that it is the users, not the web designer, that control their navigation, “with Web controls and browser back buttons and the ability of the visitor to enter the site at any page…” (p232). The whole of the Freud Communications site is on one page, with the links changing the images and text on that page rather than navigating to a new one for each section. This causes problems with the way in which many people are used to moving around websites, most noticeably that the use of the browser’s ‘back’ and ‘forward’ do not function within the site. Badre (2006) adds:

“Navigation pitfalls can be a huge barrier to usability. With different types of navigation, such as browser and page controls available, a user can easily become lost if a control does not work the way the user expects” (p232)

Therefore, if a user was to make an error, it would not be easily recovered from in the common way due to the dysfunctionality of the browser navigation; instead the user would have to find the link on the page for where they previously were. This also means that bookmarking or searching for a particular section of the site, such as ‘Job Opportunities’ would always bring the user to the initial ‘homepage’. The navigation may put users of revisiting the website if it does not work the same way as ones they know well (Nielsen 2000).

The Freud Communications website looks attractive, mainly due to the simplicity of the layout. The light colours on the black background mean that it stands out from many other pages on the Web, and Flanders (2008) suggests that, often, a black background with white text gives “a certain kind of clarity to the reading process.” Much of the text is white and fairly large, making it easily read, although the contrast of the grey, red, purple and green text on the black background in ‘Our Beliefs’, ‘Our People’ and ‘Contact Us’ are more difficult to read. A good and effective feature of the website is that it uses what Nielsen calls a “liquid layout” (2006) – the frame and text size changes according to the size of the window meaning the design is not compromised for users viewing the site on different screen sizes and various browser window sizes. The content on the site is kept to a fair minimum, meaning there is no need to scroll down on any page. The pages that do contain more writing (those sections after ‘Our Services’) contains links for ‘next page’, replacing the previous text. This is positive as, similar to search results, many users may only read the top rather than scrolling down long pages (Nielsen 1997).

McGovern (2006, p9) states that “when people use the Web, they are relentlessly task-focussed. They want to do something as quickly and as painlessly as possible.” In the case of Freud Communications, users aim to gather information simply and as with any web page, text is scanned, rather than read, in order to find what is needed (Nielsen 1997). McGovern (2006) uses the term ‘carewords’, meaning those that users scan for and act upon, “core patterns of content” (p92). In order to exploit this area of usability, such carewords of the target user need to be identified. Pages should contain them to get the point across directly with minimal ‘filler’. The Freud Communications site contains small paragraphs of text, occasionally with highlighted key points, although the long-winded, informal nature of the text means that such highlighted words are unlikely to be exactly what a visitor is seeking. It becomes difficult to tell what Freud aims to highlight on pages where the text is in three different colours.

As a marketing consultancy company, the website should aim to acquire new clients. An effective way to do this is to provide information about current or previous clients, as well as examples of previous work. ‘Our Clients’ on freud.com, show a range of company logos, and ‘Recent work’ link to a pdf file – the company’s most recent quarterly review, which lacks in detail of the company’s role in the campaigns and reduces the flow between web pages (Nielsen 1996-2009). Some major competitors PHA Media, Splendid and Shine Communications all highlight recent news and key events on the homepage. Freud Communications would benefit by including this, as well as perhaps using video and audio examples of work, giving the site more depth than just text and images. Freud have recently gained the 2012 Olympics as a client, the only evidence of this on the site is the logo amongst others. As such big news, the lack of information on the site is surprising. Dated news and articles show users that the content is current, and regularly updated (Nielsen 2003), which is difficult to tell on freud.com, mainly consisting of basic, unchanging, information. Additionally, an RSS feed for the site would allow visitors to keep up-to-date with any published news and a clearer perception of the movement of the company.

Freud Communications offers no user-generated content (UGC), or any opportunity for visitors to interact with the company or other visitors. A chance to comment on articles or a forum can benefit both the business and the user (Brink et al. 2002). Additional, and specific, information can be gathered in this way, whereas currently the only way to contact the company is by the provided telephone number or the email address (which is only supplied for job opportunities). Feedback from visitors would enable Freud Communications to tailor the website to suit the users. Increasingly businesses are using social media and microblogging to promote and share news.  Freud Communications currently do not have active Twitter or Facebook accounts, which would be very valuable to a company in the marketing and public relations industry. This would also create a platform for simple interactivity between the business and consumers.

The design and layout of the Freud Communications website is successful due to the simplicity and sophistication, however some functional usability has been compromised because of this. Most notably, the inability to use the browser’s navigation may be off-putting for visitors used to moving around the Web in that way. As a website aiming to inform and obtain potential clients, Freud Communications contains some relevant information, although this is usually hidden within rambling language. They would benefit from making improvements to their site by setting out information more clearly, including examples of their work and recent news and providing an opportunity for interactivity. An important factor that should be improved is the searchability. By making full use of key terms the target user is likely to search for, Freud will be must more likely to be found by visitors without specifically searching for the company name – an essential factor in order to gain clients.

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